He Wants to Move. She Wants to Stay. Should They Stay Together?

When I got the following email, it brought back many fond memories.

Several years ago I took a job in a remote part of Texas.  I was not happy about moving there, but I needed the job. I met someone, we fell in love and got married. I told her before marriage that my plans for living there were short-term, and she said she had no problem moving with me when the time came. It’s now been two years later, and I am blessed with a job that will allow me transfer just about anywhere.

Now she tells me that she doesn’t want to leave until her son graduates in six more years.

I probably could stomach it that long, but I won’t be happy at all. Just to be clear, I absolutely love her and I am very happy with her. We enjoy each other immensely and are always doing things together. I’ve never met anyone like her.  However, I just can’t see myself in this place for 6 more years. I will go crazy.

I feel that I have a decision to make. Do I make the move without her and hope she’ll change her mind? Or do I stick it out here and be miserable? I’m no stranger to being in places I don’t want to be. I was in the military for twenty years, and I learned you have to make the best of it wherever you are. But I feel she’s holding me back from something I’ve wanted most of my life. My happiness is important to me. She is part of that happiness but not the sole source of it. Am I being too selfish if I decide to leave without her? – James

Dear James,

Roughly 17 years ago, I met a young man and I fell in love. We were liberal fitness enthusiasts who loved to eat just as much as we loved to sweat, meditate and do downward facing dogs. But our town was conservative. Italian fare was the extent of the exotic dining, and the yoga classes were few and far between.

We both dreamed of living somewhere else—in a trendy liberal town such as San Francisco, Austin, or, most likely, Boulder. We loved the food in these cities. We loved the culture. We loved the people, and we loved the surroundings.

I felt I needed to be in one of those cities to be happy.

Flash forward a couple years. Now I’m married to that young man. I’ve left my job as an editor at Runner’s World magazine. I’m a freelance writer and editor. I can work anywhere. There’s no reason for us to stay.

Yet when I suggest a move, my husband tells me that we can’t. The house is too new. We’d lose money if we tried to sell. “We can’t go anywhere for 10 years,” he says.

“Ten years?” I cry. “I’ll never last that long.”

I mope. I incessantly bring it up for a while. He stands firm.

I decide to pay down our mortgage as fast as possible. Every month I put extra money toward the principle. I make it my secret mission.

Life goes on. I turn into an amateur gardener. I obsess over plants, bulbs, seeds, and small trees. Neighbors walk by while I am gardening. They tell me they love the sunflowers, my newest addition. They mention that deer won’t eat flowers that smell like garlic and rotten eggs. Some drop off gifts: clippings, plants, bulbs, and flowers that they’ve dug from their gardens so I can plant into mine.

Eventually I adopt a dog. When I walk with him, my neighbors tell me how handsome he is. Soon I know all of my neighbors who have dogs.

The dog comes with me when I run errands. As a result, I get to know the tellers at the bank, and the woman who works the register at the post office.

A farmer’s market opens near me. I go every week. I get to know all the farmers.

We have a baby and I get to know all of my neighbors who love babies.

It’s not long before I can’t go anywhere in town without seeing someone I know. Some of these people are liberal fitness enthusiasts like us. Others are conservatives who tell me that kale is a four-letter word. And many others are different in some other way. I realize that I don’t have to be like people to like being with them.

Eventually my baby turns into a toddler. The house is dangerous for a toddler. We decide it’s time to move.

Now everything is different. The housing market is booming. Thanks to all my extra principle payments, we hardly owe anything on the mortgage, either. We’ll walk away from our house with more than six figures in our pockets.

We could move anywhere.

You want to know where I decided to move? You want to know where I just had to live? The new house that I fell in love with?

The one on a corner lot that seemed too perfect.

Where there were hardwood floors that I just had to have.

And the where our kid could ride a bike without getting hit by a car and even walk to a playground and to her school.

The neighborhood where kids went trick or treating, and where every one seemed to have a dog.

The little town that had a Thai place and a Middle Eastern restaurant and a yoga studio, too.

It was a house just two miles away. We didn’t even need a moving truck. I just put a couple boxes in my car at a time and drove back and forth until the deed was done.

We’re happy here, in the town that I thought I absolutely had to leave.

James: Things change. Places change. People change. Attitudes change. Restaurants change. Stores change. Main streets change.

But most important of all: minds change. Happiness is not found outside of ourselves. It is not something that you will discover in a new house, a new neighborhood, or a new state.

Happiness comes from within.

If you can’t be happy in Texas, I’m guessing you won’t be happy somewhere else, either.

If you can be happy in Texas, you can be happy anywhere.

And once you can be happy anywhere, chances are, you’ll never want to leave.

Readers: I don’t think I answered Jame’s question. Is he being selfish? Should he move? What’s your advice? 

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